A brief overview of the discussion about the Van Heutsz monument, 17 April 2000


Sri Wiyanti: Legal Aid Indonesian Woman Association of Justice, Jakarta, Indonesia

Yostinus Tomi Aryanto: KONTRAS (Compensation for Disappearances and victims of violence), Jakarta, Indonesia\

Arief S. Wiranataksuma: Stichting AKVI, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Otto Kurnia Pratama, St. INFO HD, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Ahnsad Humam Hamid, Care Human Rights Forum, Banda Aceh, Indonesia

Yvette Lawson: Komitee indonesia, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Robert Aspeslagh: Institute Clingendael, The Hague, The Netherlands (chairman)

Inge Lavalette: Department Ruimtelijk Beleid, Sector REO van stadsdeel Amsterdam Oud Zuid, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (report)

Robert Aspeslagh: A monument devoted to Van Heutsz, the so-called pacificator of Aceh, is situated in this neighbourhood. From the beginning it was quite disputable. In 1928 the social democrats protested against this monument, but nevertheless the council of Amsterdam accepted it. In the Eighties the monument suffered from two bombs attacks. Both his name and the big medallion with the head of Van Heutsz, located in front of the monument (under the big statue), were illegally removed about 15 years ago. At present time it remains nameless. The monument displays, leaving aside the colonial concept, a poem to Indonesia. The occurring question is what to do with the monument in future? It is not a just a monument, but a cultural heritage of the Dutch. We cannot demolish the monument, because we would then wipe out part of our own history. The Dutch are good in opening the heroic pages of their history, but they have troubles with their own tragic pages. Do we rename this monument again as the Van Heutsz monument? Or, will this monument become a memory of our colonial past with all its dark pages. In addition, the general topic for history education, during the academic year 2001-2002, will be the period from 1596 - the start of the colonial time in Indonesia - until 1962 the incorporation of the New Guineas into Indonesia. Students will be taught for two years about this period. The present challenge is to prepare an advice to the council of Amsterdam Oud Zuid about the future of this monument.

Inge Lavalette: The reliefs on the monument, showing several islands of Indonesia, are made by the sculptor Frits van Hall.His mother was Indonesian. Frits van Hall did not make the statue of Van Heutsz like a general on horse swinging with his sword. The main figure is a woman, and the other representations are a tribute to the Dutch Indies. Frits van Hall was killed in the Second World War, since he did not want to be a member of the "Kulturkammer". This Kulturkammer was installed by the Nazis to control the Dutch artists. In that period, the son of Van Heutsz became a member of the Waffen SS. In that capacity he wrote a letter to the mayor of Amsterdam requesting him to demolish the statue of his father. Van Heutsz died in Switzerland and was re-buried in Amsterdam. A special committee was established for his funeral in Amsterdam. This committee collected money from the Dutch population. After the tomb for the reburying of Van Heutsz at the cemetery (Nieuwe Oosterbegraafplaats) in Amsterdam was paid, enough money was left to erect a second monument in order to honour him. This monument is now a subject of this discussion. In 1998 a committee in Amstelveen requested the council of Amsterdam to change the name of the Van Heutsz monument in order to give it another meaning, for instance the commemoration of the victims of the police actions in Indonesia

Ahnsad Humam Humid: He is from Aceh and was a teacher at the State University. He is a member of the Care Human Rights Forum. This morning he visited together with Nico Schulte-Nordholt (professor at the the university from Twente) the Van Heutsz monument. To him, the monument has a different meaning. The monument glorifies the past. Van Heutsz, however, is notorious. He was a general, a conqueror, and he undertook two campaigns against Aceh and caused great suffering of the people of Aceh. Nowadays, we can still find some books about the Dutch rule in Aceh. One page shows a picture Van Heutsz on a horse with a big salute at his party of soldiers. If this government wishes that we could learn from this monument, is what can we learn from history. The monument ought to tell the truth, the basic principles of history. It should tell the positive matters, but also the suffering of the people of Indonesia. The monument can be a contribution to humanity. Colonialism and imperialism are appalling and the monument ought to reflect this.
On a cemetery in Aceh, for which a foundation in The Netherlands takes care, some tombs are of Dutch generals. Aceh maintains the tombs in good conditions, because it wants to remind the people of the past.

Yostinus Tomi Aryanto: Little is known about the person Van Heutsz. A monument is meant to commemorate an event or a person. In the Soviet Union many monuments of Stalin, Lenin and Marx were destroyed. A monument can do more than to foster the memory of the past. There is a positive and a negative side on each coin. The Van Heutsz monument exists. In his opinion, it would be better if the people could use the monument in order to create a climate of reconciliation.

Sri Wiyanti: We cannot deny history. Colonialism happened to Indonesia. Van Heutsz is one of the links in this history. It is better for us to re-interpret his role. Let the monument exist, as it is, but give it a new meaning. It could be a lesson in order to understand what happens in Indonesia now.

Yostinus Tomi Aryanto: He really appreciates that the Dutch government and the people here try to look objectively at their own history. In his opinion, the Van Heutsz monument should be made complete by adding the history from the side of Indonesia in order to evoke more objectivity.

Robert Aspeslagh mentioned that he wrote a letter to professor Taufic Abdullah in Jakarta in which he invited him to write down on a half a sheet of paper his vision about Dutch colonialism and Van Heutsz.

Ahnsad Humam Hamid: If there is a plan for renovation, is it possible to included an Indonesian artist? Van Heutsz is for some Indonesians a role model, in particular for the army of Indonesia. Then, an Indonesian artist should be considered to be included.

Yostinus Tomi Aryanto: The background of the conflicts in Indonesia is not an ideological one but it is related to the question of how to build a state and a society now and in the future. This issue should not be split up in a conflict in Aceh, the Moluccas, or Java, but between the state - actually the military - and the common people.

Sri Wiyanti: What is the advantage for the Indonesian peoples now if we talk about the monument? Do you think that changing the monument will give some advantage to Indonesian people at present or in the future?

Robert Aspeslagh: There could be some benefit. Tomi Aryanto used the word `reconciliation'. It is hoped that we are open enough to what has happened in Indonesia during the colonial times. Therefore, the Van Heutsz monument should become a matter of debate and not remain as a matter of a fruitless conflict. If the monument evokes a true debate, we can make a next step, which can be called reconciliation. The time is ripe now, because there is also a kind of psychological threshold, i.e. the year 2000. What happened in 1949 was in the last century, not in this century.

Sri Wiyanti: It is not sure that the Dutch have changed their mind about Indonesia in the past or until today. Nevertheless, the monument might stimulate solidarity with the Indonesian people at present.

Yvette Lawson: The advice of Clingendael will be important, because of the simple reason that this municipality does not know what it has to do. Clingendael can have an important impact on the final political decision making. The monument can be rebuilt purely functional in an artistic way; give it a name or not. However, it is important for the young people in the Netherlands to learn about the own history both about the bad and the proper moments in history. The history behind the monument should be about Aceh. Hopefully the national program of history of the secondary schools will help young people to learn more about what has happened and happens in Indonesia. Clingendael can play a role in this. The monument is a Dutch monument, and thus a Dutch problem. We got stuck with this it. The political parties of Amsterdam are quarrelling about it. Again, it is not an Indonesian problem but our problem, and we should look in the mirror.

Otto Kurnia Pratama: Two years ago there was a brief discussion about the Van Heutsz monument in a school. Then, he learned that the Van Heutsz monument is in fact a Dutch problem. However, it can be given an important meaning and send a signal to the Indonesians how the Dutch can break from their past, and at the same time learn from and about it. Van Heutsz is for the Indonesian army an important symbol about military strategy. He tells them how to keep Indonesia as one strong state. Van Heutsz still is an ideal for our generals.

Yvette Lawson: She asks Otto Kurnia Pratama if he wishes the Dutch to help Indonesia to rebuild the monument dedicated to the seven generals in Jakarta?

Otto Kurnia Pratama: No.

Robert Aspeslagh closes the meeting and he expresses his gratitude to everybody for presenting their opinions